Have you ever wondered how long trauma bonds can last?

If so, so do a whole lot of other people. A common question we get from new community members is, “How long do trauma bonds last?”

According to a survey we conducted among 500 people who’ve experienced a trauma-bonded relationship, the average duration of a trauma bond ranges from 5 to 15 years in romantic relationships and from 20 to 40 years in familial relationships.

In this article, I will discuss the most common reasons our survey participants gave for why they felt the bond lasted as long as it did.

If you have or currently are experiencing narcissistic abuse, visit Unfilteredd’s Institute of Healing from Narcissistic Abuse for help.

Fear of Being Alone Keeps People Bound

One reason a trauma-bonded relationship can last so long is the fear of being alone.1 

It’s like staying in a room that’s too small because you’re afraid of what’s outside the door. 

Even if the relationship feels harmful or unhappy, the fear of not having anyone at all can make leaving seem scarier than staying. 

A man in a trauma-bonded relationship fearing leaving the relationship.

People in trauma bonds often worry they won’t find someone else who understands them or that they’re not deserving of a healthier relationship. 

This fear, combined with the intense emotional connection formed through the highs and lows of the trauma bond, makes it hard to break away. 

The Cycle of Good and Bad Times Creates Hope

Another reason these relationships last is the cycle of good and bad times that creates false hope.2 

Imagine riding a roller coaster with really scary drops, but then it smooths out and feels fun for a bit. 

In a trauma bond, there are moments when the abuser is kind or loving, which can feel like a relief after periods of tension or abuse. 

These good times can make you hope that things are finally changing for the better. 

You might think, “See, it’s not all bad,” or “Maybe they’re really trying to change this time.” 

This cycle can make you hold onto the relationship because you’re waiting for the next upswing, believing that the good moments are the real relationship and the bad ones are just temporary. 

This hope can keep you stuck in the cycle, making it difficult to leave the relationship.

Suggested Reading: 3 Reasons Trauma Bonds Feel Like an Addiction

The Illusion of Change and Improvement

A key reason trauma-bonded relationships can persist is the illusion of change and improvement.3 

It’s like when someone keeps promising to clean up a messy room but only moves the clutter around without really cleaning it. 

Periodically, the person causing harm might apologize, make promises to change, or exhibit short periods of improved behavior. 

A narcissist claiming that they have changed and will improve.

These moments create a powerful illusion that the relationship is improving and that the harmful behaviors will eventually stop for good. 

This belief in potential change makes it challenging to leave as you cling to the hope that the relationship can transform into the healthy, supportive bond you desire. 

This cycle of promises and temporary improvements keeps the relationship going despite the recurring patterns of harm and disappointment.

Suggested Reading: Why Do Narcissists Make False Promises

Shared History and Emotional Investment

The length of time spent in a relationship and the emotional investment made can also make it hard to end a trauma-bonded relationship.4 

It’s like investing years in building a tower of blocks, only to realize it’s leaning; the thought of knocking it down to start over is daunting. 

Over time, shared experiences, memories, and the effort put into trying to make the relationship work create a deep sense of commitment. 

You might feel you’ve invested too much to leave, even if staying means continuing unhappiness or harm. 

This commitment to the shared history and emotional investment in the relationship makes it difficult to let go, contributing to the bond’s longevity despite its unhealthy nature.

If you need help with anything related to narcissistic abuse, visit Unfilteredd’s Institute of Healing from Narcissistic Abuse today.

Normalization of Unhealthy Dynamics

Over time, the unhealthy dynamics of a trauma-bonded relationship can become normalized, making it harder to recognize the need to leave.5 

It’s similar to living in a noisy environment for so long that you stop noticing the sound. 

In these relationships, cycles of abuse, neglect, or manipulation become the standard way of interacting. 

This normalization can lead individuals to doubt their perceptions of what a healthy relationship should look like and believe that their experiences are normal or even expected. 

A woman in a trauma-bonded relationship doubting her perceptions of healthy relationships.

The fear of the unknown, or the belief that all relationships have similar issues, can keep people trapped in a harmful cycle, reluctant to step away from the familiar, no matter how damaging it may be.

Guilt and Responsibility for the Abuser’s Well-Being

Another factor that can prolong a trauma-bonded relationship is a misplaced sense of guilt and responsibility for the abuser’s well-being.6

Often, the person causing harm will manipulate their partner into believing they are the only one who can help or “save” them, placing an undue burden of responsibility on their shoulders. 

It’s like being convinced you’re the only one who can keep a sinking ship afloat. 

This responsibility can be overwhelming, making it feel impossible to leave without fearing that the abuser will suffer or deteriorate without their support. 

This manipulated sense of duty and care creates a powerful barrier to leaving, as individuals feel torn between their own well-being and the perceived need to protect the abuser from themselves.

Fear of Retaliation or Escalation

One significant reason a trauma-bonded relationship might last is the fear of retaliation or escalation from the abuser if attempts are made to leave.7 

This fear isn’t unfounded, as individuals in such relationships often face threats or have experienced increased aggression when they’ve tried to set boundaries or express the desire to end the relationship. 

A narcissist becomes threatening as soon as someone sets boundaries.

It’s akin to walking on eggshells, where the anticipation of the abuser’s explosive reaction becomes a deterrent to leaving. 

The concern for personal safety, or even the safety of loved ones, can make the prospect of exiting the relationship daunting, leading many to stay in hopes of avoiding a worse outcome. 

Suggested Reading: Will a Narcissist Try to Get Revenge?

Loss of Identity and Isolation

Over time, individuals in a trauma-bonded relationship may experience a loss of identity and increased isolation, factors that significantly contribute to the duration of the relationship.8 

Abusers often systematically break down their partner’s sense of self and gradually isolate them from support networks, making it difficult for the victim to envision a life outside the relationship. 

This isolation can be both physical, by cutting off contact with friends and family, and emotional, by undermining self-esteem and autonomy. 

As the victim’s identity becomes increasingly tied to the relationship and the abuser, leaving not only feels like stepping into the unknown but also like losing a part of oneself. 

This erosion of identity and isolation ensures that the trauma bond remains intact, as the victim feels increasingly dependent on the abuser for their sense of self and connection to the world.

If you are ready to be more than a victim of narcissistic abuse, visit Unfilteredd’s Institute of Healing from Narcissistic Abuse today.


Thank you so much for reading; I hope this article was helpful.

Now, I’d love to hear from you!

Have you or someone you know ever found themselves in a trauma-bonded relationship? 

What was the journey like in recognizing and attempting to break free from it?

What strategies have you found helpful in dealing with the fear of being alone or the cycle of good and bad times that trauma bonds often bring?

Or perhaps you’re currently seeking ways to navigate out of a trauma-bonded situation and need guidance or support.

Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below.

Our Latest Articles

About the Author

Hey, I’m Elijah.

I experienced narcissistic abuse for three years. 

I create these articles to help you understand and validate your experiences.

Thank you for reading, and remember, healing is possible even when it feels impossible.

Unfilteredd has strict sourcing guidelines and only uses high-quality sources to support the facts within our content. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, actionable, inclusive, and trustworthy by reading our editorial process.

  1. National Domestic Violence Hotline. Why Do Victims Stay? National Domestic Violence Hotline. https://ncadv.org/why-do-victims-stay ↩︎
  2. National Domestic Violence Hotline. Why People Stay. It’s not as easy as simply walking away. National Domestic Violence Hotline. https://www.thehotline.org/support-others/why-people-stay-in-an-abusive-relationship/ ↩︎
  3. One Love. 11 Reasons Why People in Abusive Relationships Can’t “Just Leave”. One Love. https://www.joinonelove.org/learn/why_leaving_abuse_is_hard/ ↩︎
  4. Sylvia Smith. (2022. October, 6). 15 Reasons why Do People Stay in Emotionally Abusive Relationships. Marriage.com. https://www.marriage.com/advice/domestic-violence-and-abuse/why-people-stay-in-an-emotionally-abusive-relationship/ ↩︎
  5. Ashley Ruiz. (2021. October, 29). Normalizing Toxic Behaviors Causes More Harm. CAWC. https://www.cawc.org/news/normalizing-toxic-behaviors-causes-more-harm/ ↩︎
  6. Cheryl Wozny. (2022. October, 20). Feelings of Guilt and Shame After Suffering Verbal Abuse. HealthyPlace. https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2022/10/feelings-of-guilt-and-shame-after-suffering-verbal-abuse ↩︎
  7. WomensLaw.org. Court System Basics. WomensLaw.org. https://www.womenslaw.org/laws/preparing-court-yourself/court-system-basics/safety-issues/im-afraid-abuser-may-want-seek-out ↩︎
  8. Karakurt G, Silver KE. “Emotional abuse in intimate relationships: the role of gender and age.” Violence Vict. 2013;28(5):804-21. ↩︎

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